Friday, April 08, 2005

Hundreds gather to pay their respects

By Alice Mascarenhas

Just as the world has united this week to mourn the death of Pope John Paul II, with millions assembling in Rome for today’s funeral, yesterday the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned bore witness to the strength of feeling which also exists on the Rock.

A packed Cathedral bursting at the seams, reminiscent of Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, saw a congregation made up of all the Christian Churches – people from all walks of life and of all ages- who came to pay their own respects at this Solemn Requiem Mass in thanksgiving for the life of Pope John Paul.

At the Altar lay the two Chalices he personally presented to the Catholic Church on the Rock during his lifetime – one a gift following the rebuilding of St Theresa’s Church and the other at the Consecration of the extension of the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe.

The congregation extended to the side patio entrance, from the main entrance it almost reached Main Street – just a few steps away. People had been arriving since before two o’clock in the afternoon to secure a seat. Inside there were people standing everywhere stretching all the way down the sides leading up to the Altar, more benches were brought in, people were sitting on the side Altar steps, and some had even brought their own beach chairs.

At the front was Governor Sir Francis Richards and Lady Richards, Leader of the Opposition Joe Bossano and Mrs Bossano, The Speaker of the House Haresh Budhrani, The Mayor Clive Beltran, the Attorney General, Government Ministers and Opposition members all accompanied by their wives, other official representatives, the representative of the Polish Consulate, the Vice-president of the Jewish Community Momy Levy, and representing the Muslims, the Iman.

The Service was presided by the Bishop of Gibraltar Bishop Caruana. As the emotional driven entrance hymn – Abide with Me sung by the Cathedral Choir – sounded representatives of all the other Christian Churches on the Rock which included The Dean of Gibraltar Alan Woods joined the entire Catholic Clergy in procession leading to the Altar.

The Mayor read the First Reading, the Polish representative Tony Lombard read the Responsorial Psalm.

In his Homily, the Bishop Charles Caruana, again spoke of the Pope’s belief and conviction in prayer and how this had characterised his Pontificate. “He was a moral leader,” said the Bishop as he recalled the special moments of his life and what he had achieved through his travels.

“By the millions people have reflected on all that he has taught them,” he said.
“Is it not true that a grain must fall for it to flower?”

“We pray that the death of this humble, sincere and powerful man, Pope John Paul II, will bring about the flowering of a new world. Following his example without fear we too should work for truth and justice,” he emphasised.

The bidding prayers were then read by young Christians of all ages.

It was a touching Service that united the Gibraltar community reinforced by the many non-Catholics who joined in during Communion with crossed arms ready to receive a blessing from the Bishop or Priest giving Communion. At the point he was at, and there were several throughout the Church and even on the steps in the patio, Father Michael Bonifacio, had given out on the Hosts and had to return with more.

A stamp was given out at the end of the Service to the congregation with a picture of Pope John Paul II – at the back it reads ‘Do not be afraid – Pope John Paul II’ together with yesterday’s date as a reminder of the occasion.

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